03 May 2011


We all recognize it when we see it, yet our perception of creativity can be heavily influenced by cultural context, by the intelligence of the observer, or by one's awareness (or ignorance) of whether or not an idea or product is truly original, or whether it has already appeared in the past. We value creativity in art, in literature, in music, in cinema, in cooking, in consumer products, in abstract thinking, in technology, in a score of measures. The value of a creative act is highly subjective, yet nearly everyone agrees that originality, aesthetics, and utility are all part of the mix.

Just for fun, I'm going to toss out several resources for you to explore. The first is How Sci-Fi Makes Us More Open to Strange Forms of Sex and Sexuality. You don't have to be an avid reader of science fiction to take the author's point that a strong appeal to the imagination of the reader will keep those pages turning -- we are freed from "the cultural and social baggage" that each of us carries. A good writer can ease us into this more open mindset by "breaking assumptions, by destabilizing what we presume are the foundations" of the subject matter, in this case gender and sexuality. Sex is particularly fertile ground (as it were) as a vehicle for broadening our horizons, since we are so fascinated by it. And why not?

An essential component of creativity is learning, both by the creator and by his/her audience. The setting does not have to be formal. In Kids Learn Better When You Bring Science Home, Peggy Ashbrook celebrates the things we learn from our parents -- and can teach our children -- simply by being involved and becoming a role model for curiosity. A parent does not have to have specialized knowledge in science to pass on a lively interest in the world around us. Ashbrook notes that "You actually will be behaving as a scientist when you say, 'That's a question I don't know the answer to. Let's make some more observations and see what we can figure out.' By example, adults can show children how to ask questions and investigate -- and then try to find out more by making focused observations, asking others, or reading a book. Research has shown that 'when parents play an active role, their children achieve greater success as learners, regardless of socioeconomic status, ethnic/racial background, or the parents' own level of education.' " A curious mind is predisposed to become a creative mind.

In a more formal setting, Vivienne Perry offers ideas for hooking a reader's interest in one's writing in her brief essay You Want to Know More, I Know You Do. Good science writing has much in common with good writing in fiction, biography, or history. Composition and vocabulary aside, it's always good to have a hook -- "some utterly delicious factoid or piece of information so counterintuitive it hauls you up short and forces you to read it a second time." Tantalizing the reader, establishing context, explaining terms, seasoning with emotion and humor .... all are part of the best writing in any genre.

And then there is the medium itself, in this case the printed word. More particularly, the font (the characters in the typeface one chooses). The website which hosts this blog only offers eight fonts, none of them particularly exotic or arresting, which is fine for legibility, not so much for visual creativity. Thousands of fonts exist, some of them pretty outre. A few examples are contained in America's Most Fonted: The 7 Worst Fonts, a collection that is both humorous and highly subjective. I for one find the Papyrus font quite appealing visually, and hey, Brad Pitt apparently agrees. Who knew?

Whether one considers examples of creativity, or the creative process itself (how did Mozart manage to compose so much intricate beauty in such a short lifespan?), the exploration itself is a challenge, a joy, and yet another example of .... you guessed it, creativity.

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